Renesas, which vies with NXP Semiconductors NV and Infineon Technologies AG to supply automakers, is a prime barometer for the sector. It gets about half its revenue from car chips and counts all the major automakers among its clients, including Toyota Motor Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. It also outsources some production of more advanced chips to TSMC, the world’s largest contract manufacturer.

The company’s 200-millimeter wafer line on the southern island of Kyushu is operating near full capacity while its 300-millimeter fab in Naka, north of Tokyo, is in “overdrive.” For every 40-nanometer microcontroller it makes at the Naka fab, it orders six from TSMC, a proportion that hasn’t changed with the shortage, Shibata said.

Both plants make chips used in automotive and industrial applications and are a better representation of the tightening supply than the 60% overall factory utilization Renesas reported last month. The Kyushu line makes mid- to low-end microcontrollers while the fab in Naka also makes 40-nanometer microcontrollers and system-on-chip devices, and 90-nanometer analog chips for car applications.

“Nothing can be done about those,” Shibata said. “They are running at the limit of their capacity.”

It’s not yet clear whether Renesas will emerge as a beneficiary of the supply crunch, but one broader benefit is a deeper appreciation of the importance of the tiny devices to the global economy, Shibata said. That recognition is long overdue, he said.

“Cars are increasingly turning into electronic devices and it’s breaking the traditional supply chain models,” Shibata said. “That much has been made clear. Now that everyone has noticed, maybe we can have a constructive conversation about this.”



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